Nov 25, 2021 • 1HR 6M

Ep. 57: An Omni-American Ensemble | Greg Thomas

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Excerpt taken, with permission, from the Free Black Thought Interview with Greg Thomas: Jazz, the Omni-American Ideal, and a Future Beyond Bigotry.


The Jazz Leadership Project is a for-profit business that uses the principles and practices of jazz music as a foundation for leadership and team development and training. We have done work with a variety of organizations, from Verizon, to JPMorgan Chase, to the Center for Policing Equity, to NYPD and TD Bank. First, we demonstrate how everything is built upon the foundation of individual excellence. If you play jazz, you must develop your chops, your sound, and your technical skills. You've got to have your skills down on your musical instrument, so, by analogy, or by extension, in the workplace you've got to really know what you're doing; you have to have your skills down just to be able to interact with colleagues on projects. And that's true not only in the workplace but also in civic life, in social and political life.

Shared leadership is a foundation for jazz. So, even if you have a band leader whose name is on the marquee, each person on his or her instrument has a responsibility to be the best they can be, to contribute to the whole. That's the foundation for understanding how we should be working together and communicating together, where each individual is respected and honored. Shared leadership means I respect and honor your role and your capacity for leadership in your area.

Another principle in JLP is antagonistic cooperation, which comes from the hero’s journey. It basically means that rather than considering challenges and conflicts in a negative light, we accept them as opportunities for growth and learning. 

In jazz, we also have what we call an ensemble mindset. Jewel Kinch-Thomas—my partner in life and business—and I coined that term. It means high performance collaboration and swinging at a very high level. So, you have individual talent and skills, yes, but you have them flowing together in a way that leads to collaborative co-creation. We look for the collaborative emotional and cultural intelligence coming through the interaction.

This is an ideal for working together on teams at work, but it also, I think, has social applications, though the issue of scale arises as a question. So, ensemble mindset is a useful analogy or metaphor, but there are limits to all analogies and metaphors.

To read more, see Jazz, the Omni-American Ideal, and a Future Beyond Bigotry


In the Hold my Drink — navigating culture with a chaser of civility, and Counterweight podcast, Episode 57, we speak with Greg Thomas, CEO of the Jazz Leadership Project and an Omni-American. Greg explains how using the principles of Jazz - individual excellence, antagonistic cooperation, and shared leadership - all lead to an ensemble mindset, a mindset that created a Jazz movement, which became a symbol of American freedom. He explains how we can apply those same principles to our lives today and free ourselves from the bigotry and division that has us playing out of tune. All discussed with a chaser of civility, of course, a lemonade, a scotch and dreams of a glass of pinot noir.

Hold my Drink welcomes all people with all kinds of beverages to join us as we explore the truths of a chaotic and beautiful world, together.

Find us on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or watch the conversation unfold on YouTube, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.


Podcast Resources:

Rethinking Humanity, Tony Seba & James Arbib

The Omni-Americans, Albert Murray

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

A Brief History of Everything, Ken Wilber

Developmental Politics, Steve McIntosh

Metamodernity, Lene Rachel Anderson

What Greg is Reading:

Recapture the Rapture, Jamie Wheal

The Politics of Waking Up, Indra Adnan

Read Until you Understand, Farah Jasmine Griffin

And, Barry Johnson

Fear of a Black Universe, Stephon Alexander

What Jen is Reading:

America By Gaslight, Tablet Magazine, Ilana Redstone

The Media’s Verdict on Kyle Rittenhouse, Common Sense, Bari Weiss

Racecraft, Karen E. Fields & Barbara J. Fields

and listening to…

DarkHorse Podcast with Irshad Manji & Bret Weinstein

The Media’s Verdict on Kyle Rittenhouse, Honestly Podcast with Jessie Singal & Bari Weiss


Greg Thomas, as CEO of the Jazz Leadership Project, executes the vision and values of jazz into strategic action for clients ranging from Verizon, JPMorgan Chase, and TD Bank to the Center for Policing Equity and the NYPD. He has curated and facilitated humanities programs for Jazz at Lincoln Center and The National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Greg has written on jazz and democratic life for AreoNew RepublicThe RootNew York Daily NewsPost-Progressive Post and his blog, Tune In To Leadership. He is a Senior Fellow of the Institute for Cultural Evolution. As an educator and lecturer, Greg has presented on culture, race, and music for virtual platforms such as Rebel Wisdom and The Stoa as well as institutions such as Columbia, Hamilton, Ben Gurion University, and Harvard.